Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025666, Fri, 5 Sep 2014 09:49:44 -0500

Re: Nabokov and L. Trilling
I seem to have inadvertently pressed various buttons. Dr. Stadlen's memory of the review is inaccurate. Trilling, in other writings, does seem to have given Freud more credit than is due (and I agree Freud merits little credit in advancing the science of psychology.) But not here. In fact he says that Nabokov

" has no
“interest in the ‘psychological’ aspects of the story; he has none
whatever. His novel is as far as
possible from being a ‘study of’the emotions it presents. The malice which H.
H. bears to psychiatry is quite Mr. Nabokov’s own;…” “Psychiatry and the world
may join in giving scientific or ugly names to Humbert’s sexual idiosyncrasy;
the novel treats it as a condition of love like another.” and so he takes the book on Nabokov's terms. Having noted that the subject matter is intentionally outrageous he asks the same question everyone asks when they read the book: “What, we must ask, is Mr. Nabokov’s purpose in making this occasion for outrage?” That is the question he tries to answer, and he does it splendidly. Perfectly. And, I'll bet, VN agreed with him. He wrote that the book's subject matter " makes it unique in my experience of
contemporary novels. If our fiction gives accurate testimony, love has
disappeared from the western world, just as Denis de Rougement said it should. The
contemporary novel can tell us about sex, and about sexual communion, and
about mutuality, and about the strong fine relationships that grow up between
men and women; and it can tell us about marriage. But
about love, which was once one of its chief preoccupations, it can tell us
nothing at all.” And then he proceeds to show how Nabokov has broken through this barrier to create a modern novel about an emotion that has all but become extinct in contemporary fiction.

He is pointing out how the book follows in a literary tradition. He is not talking about the love we all seek in our relationships, so beautifully described by Brian. "The
essential condition of this kind of love was that it had nothing to do with
marriage and could not possibly exist in marriage."

And: “inevitably the sexual revolution of our
time brought the relationship between marriage and passion –love to a virtual
end. "

He correctly points out the difference between Humbert's passion and the kind of love Brian is talking about:

condition towards which such a marriage aspires is health—a marriage is praised by being called a healthy marriage. This will suggest how far the modern ideal of
love is from passion-love. The literal
meaning of the word passion will
indicate the distance. Nowadays we use
the word chiefly to mean an intense feeling, forgetting the old distinction
between a passion and an emotion, the former being an emotion before which we
are helpless, which we have to suffer,
in whose grip we are passive. The
passion-lover was a sick man, a patient.

He agrees with Brian that we have to distinguish this love from the kind we generally desire. "“Now it may well be that all this is absurd, and
really and truly a kind of pathology, and that we are much the better for being
quite done with it, and that our contemporary love-ideal of firm, tolerant,
humorous, wry, happy marriage is a great advance from it.

But he asks and answers the pertinent question:

"If a
novelist wanted, for whatever strange reason, to write a novel about the old kind of love, how would
he go about it? How would he find or contrive the elements that make love
possible?" And shows us Nabokov's literary genius in accomplishing this goal. He points out a lot of other good stuff too:

"….in recent fiction no lover has thought of his
beloved with somuch tenderness, that no woman has been so charmingly evoked, in
such grace and delicacy, as Lolita; the description of her tennis game, in
which even her racket has an erotic charm, is one of the few examples of rapture in modern writing."

Date: Thu, 4 Sep 2014 12:40:37 +0000
From: b.boyd@AUCKLAND.AC.NZ
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] Nabokov and L. Trilling

In response to Anthony Stadlen’s semi-prompt: from what I recall of Trilling’s article, he makes a valid point about the appeal for Nabokov of a situation that keeps desire at its steamy peak, as in the hothouse conditions
of the courtly love tradition.
On the other hand Trilling missed the fact that in
Lolita Nabokov shows what love is, not by showing it in a form that conserves its intensity, but by showing exactly what it is
not, in Humbert’s relations with Lolita. This strikes me more vividly than ever after my prolonged recent immersion in Nabokov’s
Letters to Véra, which I have just finished editing and translating with Olga Voronina (864 pages, Penguin, September 23; Knopf will not publish it in the US until 2015). Nabokov’s relationship to Véra in the letters reveals exactly what’s missing in
Humbert’s relationship to Lolita in the novel, and what Nabokov meant readers to sense was missing: a mutual delight in what their minds can share, a sense of immediate attunement even when the tune is surprising or distant or momentarily jarring; a constant
sympathetic awareness of her perspective and concern for her needs; a refusal to manipulate her, while always trying to enchant her. Very different indeed from
The Enchanter, or Humbert’s attempted drug-rape of Lolita at the Enchanted Hunters.

Brian Boyd

On 3/09/2014, at 10:55 pm, Anthony Stadlen <STADLEN@AOL.COM> wrote:

I have always found Trilling's article deplorable: a paradigm case of psychoanalytically corrupted misunderstanding of, and debasement of, the concept of "love".

I didn't find the sound quality of the Nabokov-Trilling conversation prohibitive. It was all too audible. I was deeply disappointed by Nabokov's succumbing to Trilling's flattery and colluding with his psychobabble. The would-be fierce opponent of the
"Viennese quack" was seduced without a murmur of protest.

I imagine Brian Boyd will understand what I am talking about, if nobody else does.

Anthony Stadlen


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In a message dated 03/09/2014 03:43:47 GMT Daylight Time,
franassa@HOTMAIL.COM writes:

I've just reread Lionel Trilling's "Encounter" piece on Lolita.
I was even more impressed than the first time I'd read it. I think it is one of the best things I've ever read on the book. I'm wondering what others might think. Also, I've tried to watch the youtube conversation with Nabokov and Trilling, but the
sound quality is prohibitive. Does anyone know of a source with good sound quality? Did the Nabokovs and the Trillings see anything of each other socially?

Fran Assa


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